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Getting the diagnosis for Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is also known as emotional dysregulation disorder or emotionally unstable personality disorder. Despite being referred to as a ‘personality disorder’ in the diagnostic manual, many have proposed that the term 'personality disorder' is best understood as a limitation in the capacity to self-regulate. This means that a person can have feelings that are overwhelming, spiralling out of control, and rapidly changing. These symptoms often go hand-in-hand a sense of emptiness.

Given the stigma and negative associations that are potentially attached to a personality disorder diagnosis, can getting a diagnosis ever be a good thing? 

The answer is yes. 

In fact, many people are relieved to get a diagnosis. The value of a diagnosis is in getting the right treatment. Although it sometimes come with the terror of being associated with a ‘personality’ defect,  stigma and shame, it can help people make sense of their experience. Being able to put a name to experiences that are intangible and often misunderstood and be hugely validating. After getting a diagnosis, you may decide to tell family, friends and colleagues (if you want to) about it. Sometimes, when the people close to you understand that there is a reason for your difficulties, it's easier for them to empathise with you and offer the right kind of support. You may also then be able to identify and find others who share the same difficulties, and realise that you are not alone. Ultimately, you are the only person who can decide if this is the best choice for you.

Supporting someone through the process of getting a diagnosis

If you suspect that your friends or family members have personality disorder traits, here are some bullet points that may help you to support someone through the process of getting a diagnosis:

  • Remember that a diagnosis is not a brush stroke statement. It is important to allow the person you are supporting to speak about their individualised, subjective experiences. 
  • Knowing that being attached to a label can bring up a mixed bag of emotions, please respect your loved one’s ambivalence towards getting a diagnosis. 
  • Even when a person is given the diagnosis of personality disorder, he or she has the right to disagree with it. Your job as a supportive friend, family member or partner is simply to be there for him, and be a kind witness to any emotions that arise. 
  • Though you may want to encourage treatment or provide guidepost to it, do not ‘force it’. Treatment would not be effective if the person is not motivated. 
  • Remember that being given a diagnosis does not dilute a person’s heart and soul, and certainly does not take away the positive traits, creativity, passion and other virtues there is in him/her.

In the end, it’s not the label that matters, but what you make of it. 

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Imi Lo: Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Coach (MMH, FRSA, UKCP, AthR)

Imi is an award-winning mental health professional, accredited clinical psychotherapist (UKCP), art therapist (HCPC, BAAT), supervisor and trainer. She specialises in emotional intensity, sensitivity, borderline personality traits, and unblocking creative potential in people. She is the founder of the Eggshell Therapy and Coaching Practise.… Read more

Written by Imi Lo: Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Coach (MMH, FRSA, UKCP, AthR)

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